Mazda Halts Rotary Engine Development: Is 2011 Your Last Chance To Wankel?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Though the next-generation of Mazda’s rotary engine has been in development since 2007, and has been the subject of several TTAC Wild-Ass Rumors, WardsAuto reports that the unique engine design could well be reaching the end of its life.

Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda executive officer-product planning and powertrain development, says there is “huge discussion” within the Hiroshima, Japan-based company whether to continue on with a rotary engine.

Fujiwara says economic hardship has some top brass looking for programs to cut, and that the engine program is on the list.

Continuing development of the rotary has been halted for now, but he hopes it will resume in the future, noting the technology is a part of Mazda’s DNA.

Without identifying what exactly they are, Fujiwara says three major problems were identified with the current generation of rotary engine, but that two of the three have been overcome. Still, Mazda says that only one thing will save the rotary engine at this point: success with Mazda’s new suite of SKYACTIV technologies. If these fuel-saving measures spark new interest in the Mazda brand, says Fujiwara, then Mazda might have enough cash to invest in its rotary engine. Alternatively, a Mazda-developed Wankel engine could be used as an electric range-extender. In any case, don’t expect a new Mazda rotary before 2017… if ever. Here’s hoping Mazda is able to keep this unique, distinctive drivetrain alive for future generations of enthusiast drivers.

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  • MLB MLB on Aug 08, 2011

    The rotary engine has been used in generators, snowmobiles, motorcycles, cars, trucks, airplanes and who knows what else. And it seems that as of today, only the Mazda RX-8 is still available with it wherein it sells in any quantity. Most car shoppers know nothing about it and couldn't care otherwise. It has always been an enthusiast's delight and has only really made its place in the world by powering light sports cars. And with the increasing sophistication of electronics, no doubt more strides can be made in better economy and fewer emissions. But this will be true across the spectrum of all I.C.E.'s, and since the rotary has similar operating and power characteristics to the two-stroke piston engine, maybe if Mazda decides to dump the Wankle but still needs an ace to attach to their name they could try to resurrect the public image of the good ol' "corn-popper". But this may not be as outlandish as it seems. Once ubiquitous in the small motorbike world, It is strange that the two-stroke was originally banned because of noise and smoke issues, but now it has made more than a comeback, and they are now far more common than ever, by their use in obscenely loud, powered lawn equipment and in the new kind of plasticky, puny putt-putt type of motorscooters. A few cars have used two-strokes in the past - most notably Saab and, more recently, the smoky, smelly, trashy Trabant - and so maybe if Mazda sends the Wankle out to pasture they could then pick up the mantle and tech-up the two-stroke for automotive use once again, in a new and higher calling, in keeping with the company's own somewhat romantic engineering ideal of doing something difficult just to do it, even when there is really little to be gained by doing so over standard procedures, much in the manner of the rotary. Whether any such new technology would be more expensive than continuing with the Wankle is the key issue; but they already tried to branch out not too long ago with the short-lived and seemingly unnecessary updating of the old Miller Cycle cylinder heads. Of course, if Mazda's nixing of the Wankle is done on purely economic grounds then any such argument is moot; but I too agree that the rotary has always been Mazda's 'hook', and if it were not for it and the Miata, just what would Mazda be, anyway. . . ?

  • John Horner John Horner on Aug 08, 2011

    Have a nice send off party and decommission the Wankel. The only thing it has going for it is a power-to-weight advantage over piston engines, and that advantage is shrinking. Meanwhile, Mazda can ill afford to put development resources into a one-model low volume technological curiosity. Mazda is going to have enough trouble being competitive which the big boys and hasn't a person or Yen to spare on sentimental engineering projects. Back in the 1970s it was dedication to the Wankel engine and its low fuel economy, spotty reliability, emission control difficulties and high production costs that pushed Mazda into Ford's arms in the first place.

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